They also performed a drama. The closure of the border has made them to become not financially stable as businesses they depend on are going down, therefore some youths have decided to start doing prostitution to support themselves.

The team had discussions with the chiefs (the one talking is chief Shanganani). They gave their concerns of their health saying that they meet and receive alot of visitors whom they do not know their health status. This also puts them at risk of getting the virus.

Impact on individuals

This community has had first-hand experiences in facing a Covid-related death. A primary school teacher who had been diagnosed with the virus succumbed to it a few weeks before researchers’ visit to the community. Those that were associated with the funeral have faced notable stigma and discrimination for some weeks despite the fact that they were not showing signs of the illness. At times where they should have been supported by the community, these people felt isolated. This could be explained by the fact that the social bonds of community belongingness have not been spared by the pandemic. Life has changed in its entirety; no more greetings by handshake, etc. The very foundations of community oneness have been shaken.

Community members also faced retrenchments at work. The retrenchments have particularly hit hard individuals who have had no experience in running small scale businesses as most of them were not able to sustain their new businesses in the harsh environment propagated by the pandemic.

“The future is doomed” said one community member. There are grave fears about the future of the community due to impacts of closure of schools as a result of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there has been a huge increase in the number of pregnancies and early (child) marriages registered within the period of school closure.

Impact on the economy and businesses

Businesses have not been spared neither. Whereas large scale businesses are somehow surviving as they are able to cross the “closed” Malawi-Zambia border, small scale businesses in the areas of agribusiness and tourism have been heavily affected.

Trading is being conducted mainly in smaller quantities due to the travel restrictions across the border. Moreover, there are usually fewer people in shops at the border. The problem has been exacerbated by low sales due to lower prices of goods.

A woman share that she sells groceries and liquor which she buys in bulk in Zambia. She travels once or twice a week. Business has been slow so much so that some shops have closed. Whereas some business owners are able to buy their stock from Zambia, it is not possible to export any commodities to that country. Meanwhile, she encourages her customers (beer partakers) to physically distance themselves as well as practice handwashing with soap to prevent contracting the virus.

Impact on public health care

Another impact was in terms of the public health care system. Problems in the system were exacerbated by reportedly high numbers of patients attending a local clinic instead of the district hospital. Locals chose the latter due to misconceptions about the “deliberate spreading” of the virus at the hospital as well as the tendency of the hospital to test all suspected Covid patients. The clinic has not been severely impacted by the pandemic. The main problem has been a lack of enough access to handwashing facilities and soap as well as masks for visiting patients. Another problem is that the clinic does not test for Covid. Rather, it refers suspected patients to the district hospital for such tests, and sometimes coordination between the two healthcare institutions becomes a problem. Whereas the neighbouring clinic on the Zambian side of the border treats only Zambians, the Malawian clinic treats people of both nationalities.

There is/has been little support from government, NGOs, etc. for the prevention of the pandemic within the Shenganani community. Information about Covid-19 is accessed through radios and Televisions. Otherwise, a public announcement (PA) system was used only once to disseminate such information within the community.

Community members thought that it is the government’s responsibility, through the health care system (hospitals), to disseminate accurate Covid-19 related messages within the community and across Malawi. When seeking medical help at hospitals, patients should have been told such messages and be encouraged to inform others back home. To compensate, village chiefs assist by advising their subjects on preventive practices. It appears community response to the pandemic has been poor as locals have been found to be resistant to preventive messages such as the wearing of masks. “Negligence is a problem on the Malawian side of the border” mentioned one chief. As such civic education is needed to dispel myths about the vaccine as well as the pandemic in general.

The final day on fieldwork in Mchinji was marked with concerns by some of the participants on the slow response from stakeholders on the pandemic. Other concerns were on the swindling of Covid funds by some government officials, making the community members feel “used” for the officials’ personal gain.